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Spring checkups for pasture and native grasses

Brian Hays for Progressive Forage Published on 05 March 2020
man in pasture

This article discusses spring checkup recommendations for introduced and native pastures.

Introduced pasture recommendations

1. Test soils

If you have not taken a soils test in the past three years, now would be a good time to do so. Soil tests are necessary in introduced pasture management, because they are the only way to determine limiting nutrients, pH or the amount of residual nitrogen in the soil. If you apply nutrients, for instance phosphorus and potassium, without taking a soil sample, and they are not limiting, then you are wasting money that could be used in other areas of your operation. On the other hand, if you apply only nitrogen when phosphorus and potassium are limiting, then you will not get the anticipated yield response. Additionally, nutrients may be unavailable to plants or toxicities may occur if soil pH is either too high or low. Finally, by setting a realistic yield goal and accounting for the amount of residual nitrogen, we know how much additional nitrogen is needed. Otherwise, we risk overfertilizing or not applying enough nitrogen to meet our yield goal.

2. Scout for weeds

Spring is the time to start scouting for weeds in introduced pastures. If you had a lot of weeds last year, you'll probably have a lot again this year, unless you've lessened your grazing pressure or introduced an alternative management approach to decrease weed numbers. It is important to scout your pastures to see if you have enough weeds to justify spraying. Sometimes, the inclination is to spray without looking to see if you should. A well-managed and properly stocked pasture should not need herbicides every year. A little time spent scouting may save you a lot of unnecessary time and money on spraying when your weed population is not high enough to justify it. If you have enough weeds to spray, identify the species present. Correct weed identification is essential to selecting an herbicide that will control your weed spectrum.

Incorrect weed identification can lead to two types of errors:

  • You may choose an expensive herbicide when a less expensive one would have done the job.
  • You may choose a herbicide that does not adequately control the weeds you have, regardless of its cost.

Refer to plant identification sites online, such as Noble Research Institute’s (NRC) plant image gallery and in reference books, or take the plants to your local extension or NRC’s office to help with identification.

When you have decided on an herbicide, scout the fields again to make sure the weeds are in the correct growth stage to achieve good control. Most weeds should be sprayed when they are small and actively growing, but there are exceptions to this. The label will usually show the weed height or growth stage that is optimum for control.

3. Calibrate the sprayer

Possibly the number one reason for control failures of herbicides is incorrect sprayer calibration. If your sprayer is not properly calibrated, you have no idea how much herbicide you're applying. Applying too much wastes money and applying too little gives poor control of weeds. Before you begin spraying, check to see how many gallons of liquid per acre the sprayer is delivering. Also, check each nozzle in the boom and make sure they're putting out the same amount.

The following videos will show how to calibrate a sprayer:

pasture checkups

Native pasture recommendations

1. Evaluate conditions

If you keep grazing records (how long you grazed and rested each pasture), take a look back at those records and determine how you plan to adjust your grazing plan for the coming year. If you stayed in one pasture a little too long, you might want to allow that pasture to have some extra time to recover before grazing it again this year.

2. Move grazing exclusion cages

If you use grazing exclusion cages, now is a good time to move those to a new location in your pastures. Grazing exclusion cages are one of the most effective tools for observing grazing utilization within a monitoring plan. The cages exclude grazing animals from a small representative area, so the grazed vegetation outside the cage can be compared to ungrazed vegetation inside the cage. Learn more about grazing exclusion cages.

3. Take photo points

It is also a good time to take photo points. Photo points are an economical and easy way to monitor your pastures. This method consists of taking photographs from permanently marked locations across your property to monitor visual changes in plant communities over time. They allow you to see subtle changes over time, such as brush encroachment, that you may not otherwise notice until it has become a real problem.

Look at rainfall records for both introduced and native pastures

Look at your rainfall records to determine where you are compared to the long-term average. If you do not keep rainfall records, look for that information for your county. How much or how little rainfall you have received during the fall and winter months will give you an idea of what this year’s carrying capacity for your ranch might be. Based on this information, you can adjust the stocking rate accordingly.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Pasture evaluation is key to proper management.

PHOTO 2: Grazing exclusion cages such as this one can help you observe grazing utilization. Photos courtesy of the Noble Research Institute. 

Brian Hays
  • Brian Hays

  • Pasture and Range Consultant
  • Noble Research Institute
  • Email Brian Hays

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